If there’s one topic that’s been covered extensively in business literature, it’s branding. Everyone from advertising gurus to academics to billionaire entrepreneurs have had a go at distilling their thoughts about this vital topic into book form.
In this article we’ll separate the wheat from the chaff, and identify 15 great books which, regardless of their publication date, have much to teach us today. They’re also a fun read, if you’re at all interested in how to lift a startup from your garage to household name status.
For each book below, we’ll give the authors, publishing house, year of release, and page count as well as a short review.
So, without further, delay here’s our rundown of…
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14 must-read branding books to check out in 2023
Here's a list of the best branding books right now:
- Identity Designed
- How to Launch a Brand
- Building a StoryBrand
- Designing Brand Identity
- The Brand Gap
- 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
- Branding in Five and a Half Steps
- Hello, My Name is Awesome
- Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
- This Is Marketing
- Book of Branding
- Marketing Made Simple
- Find Your Red Thread
- Brand Thinking (and Other Noble Pursuits)
Let's dive deeper into a summary of each one.
1. Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding
- Author: David Airey
- Rockport Publishers, 2019
- 240 pages
As befits its topic, Identity Designed looks beautiful — this coffee-table styled book is a celebration of some of the work of the world’s finest visual branding designers. Presenting sixteen case studies from studios in Stockholm, London, Sao Paolo, and Kyiv, Identity Designed is intended “not only for designers, but for business owners who want to improve their work with a greater understanding of how good design is good business.”
Airey is a leading freelance designer, having worked for clients including Yellow Pages and Berthier Associates. He writes two of the most popular graphic design blogs on the net, including Logo Design Love, promoting his favorite design activity.
Covering topics as varied as research, merging brand strategy and design, and presenting work to clients, this book is both a practical and philosophical exploration of how design reinforces branding. Readers have called it “beautiful in its depth and detail” and “bursting with revealing discussion and inspirational work.”
2. How to Launch a Brand
- Author: Fabien Geyrhalter
- Brandtro, 2016
- 122 pages
Finien, a branding consultancy run by Fabien Geyrhalter, specializes in brand transformation and growth. But before you can avail yourself of Finien’s services, you first need to build your brand. That’s where Geyrhaler’s bestselling book comes in.
The book takes a four-step approach to brand creation: the fundamentals of creating a brand platform, naming your brand, giving it a visual identity, and building what the author calls “brand atmosphere touch points.” It’s a pragmatic and common-sense approach which helps demystify the branding process.
Geyrhalter’s big argument is that whereas you might think you have to build a brand over time after launching it, the reverse is possible, and preferable. Using design as a tool to promote brand identity and stand out, you can hit the ground running from launch day.
It’s a short book, at just 122 pages, but in those pages Geyrhalter distills over two decades as a leading brand strategist, and the book has a 4.3/5 ranking on Amazon. One reader describes it as “my go-to branding reference when starting a new venture.”
How to Launch a Brand is available as a workbook, paperback, e-book, or audio book.
3. Building a StoryBrand: Clarify your Message so Customers will Listen
- Author: Donald Miller
- HarperCollins Leadership, 2017
- 240 pages
Donald Miller is a screenwriter, podcast host (Business Made Simple) and the CEO of an online teaching platform of the same name. This book became a Wall Street Journal bestseller in 2017.
Miller’s StoryBrand process highlights the narrative that accompanies the brands which connect best with consumers. As he says, “without a clear, distinct message, customers will not understand what you can do for them and are unwilling to engage.” How to Launch a Brand is all about breaking through the noise by harnessing the power of story.
Miller discusses the seven universal elements of powerful stories and how these can be used to express the uniqueness of your brand. His process contrasts with more design-led approaches and one reader stresses the author’s screenwriter credentials: “Miller writes good, clean prose and his experience as a screenwriter shows up in many of his clear explanations.”
4. Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team
- Author: Alina Wheeler
- John Wiley and Sons, 2012
- 326 pages
Now in its fifth edition with over 150,000 copies sold, Alina Wheeler’s book provides a thorough checklist of the elements you need to get in place before launching a brand destined for success. Wheeler has over forty years’ experience as a branding consultant in both the public and private sectors.
The book is lavishly illustrated and provides everything you need from brand management to conducting research and constructing an identity. Examples of great branding are presented from household names including McDonalds, Bank of America, and Coca Cola.
If you’re looking for a dry academic approach to branding, this isn’t it. Wheeler’s book is much more visual and entertaining than many of the other titles on this list. It works best as a primer for someone entering the branding and design world, or a coffee table book to refresh your visual design sensibilities.
5. The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design
- Author: Marty Neumeier
- Aiga Design Press, 2005
- 208 pages
Visually striking with its black and while graphics and clever cover, Neumeier’s book is about the gap that often exists between strategy and execution. It stresses the vital importance of research and places a high value on customer experience.
Although it’s one of the older books on this list, the second edition carries the imprimatur of the AIGA, the professional association for design, and The Brand Gap scores an impressive 4.5/5 on Amazon with over 700 ratings. It’s easy to see why — Neumeier is a very punchy and entertaining writer.
Neumeier goes into depth about the importance of brand’s values and how these connect with deep-seated human needs — comfort, style, success, strength and so forth. This is a timeless book which provides a good grounding in the theory of branding as communication.
Readers evidently agree, calling it “the best book I’ve read on branding” and “masterfully written.”
6. 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
- Authors: Al Ries and Laura Ries
- Harper Business, 2002
- 272 pages
It may be having its twentieth anniversary, but nothing in 22 Immutable Laws… is ready to be relegated to history. Father and daughter team Al and Laura Ries have over half a century of experience as strong brand strategists, and they run the Ries & Ries branding consultancy together.
The book has recently been revised edition to include 11 laws of online branding, although there are better books if your primary focus is social media branding and marketing. The book has also dated badly in terms of its predictions (“We won't have our palm pilot, phone, and CD in one... technologies don't converge, they diverge.”) Oops.
However, for grassroots theory of how to encapsulate a brand’s values in its presentation, the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding is an easy read and still merits its 4.6/5 Amazon rating.
7. Branding in Five and a Half Steps
- Author: Michael Johnson
- Thames and Hudson, 2016
- 320 pages
This handsome hardcover from coffee table book publishers Thames and Hudson bills itself as “The ultimate step-by-step visual guide to creating a successful brand.” Its author is credential-led as a designer and branding expert, having worked with Think London, Virgin Atlantic, and MORE TH>N.
Johnson tracks successful branding back to locating the vital market gap that a brand fills, its USP. Using case studies, graphics, and plentiful illustrations, this book is both branding history and practical guide, even including templates to help you think through your brand’s identity.
Readers have described Johnson’s book as “branding demystified for newbies” and “a must-read if you don’t know how to translate strategy into design.” As one of the most attractive titles is this list, it would make a great gift book too.
8. Hello, My Name is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names that Stick
- Author: Alexandra Watkins
- Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2019
- 168 pages
Watkins book is one of the shortest and quirkiest named titles on this list. If you want to get granular on the challenging world of brand naming, it’s a great reference. Watkins has a consultancy, Eat My Words, specializing in the arcane art of naming. As one of the people who helped launch Microsoft Windows, she’s provided thousands of brands with their names.
Watkin’s brand names include Spanish language school Gringo Lingo and the Church of Cupcakes, and she applies a similarly humorous and disarming approach to her writing. The book is full of insights into the importance of names and the associations they conjure up.
One of the most enjoyable titles in this rundown, it has some surprising fans amongst readers too. Says one, “As a trademark (and patent) attorney with 25 years’ experience, I now insist that all my clients buy and read this book before picking another brand name.”
It’s about more than just naming too — in finding a name, Watkins asserts, you first must identify what your brand means to you, and what you want it to mean to customers.
9. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
- Authors: Al Ries and Jack Trout
- McGraw-Hill, 2001
- 224 pages
Taking quite a different tack from Watkins, Positioning is co-written by the indomitable Al Ries with Jack Trout. This book talks about the attention economy and how brands must jostle for position, finding a unique niche from which to command engagement.
Topics covered include leveraging competitor weaknesses, analyzing trends and brand names. This second edition was published over twenty years ago, with the first edition dating from 1978, so it’s not a good source of information on online and social media branding. However, for its focus on analyzing competition brands, and the struggle to obtain customer attention in a crowded marketplace, it’s a very insightful read.
Reviewers say, “its marketing and positioning rules worked 20 years ago […] and will work forever,” and one calls it, “one of the most important business marketing books I have ever read.”
10. This Is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn to See
- Author: Seth Godin
- Portfolio, 2018
- 233 pages
No list of branding books would be complete without a title by Godin, multiple bestselling author of a slew of seminal marketing books including Tribes and The Dip. This is Marketing was a Wall Street Journal #1 bestseller and has earned over 2000 five-star ratings on Amazon.
Godin is a personal branding expert and a former dot-com CEO, and his blog was named by Time magazine as one of its 25 best blogs of 2009. In the last twenty years he’s written over 20 books, making him by far the most prolific author in this list.
This is Marketing’s thesis is that marketing is problem-solving, where the owner of the problem in question is the consumer. Says Godin, great brands require empathy and the ability to connect emotionally to a customer if they wish to succeed. As one of the more recent titles in our rundown, Godin’s book is strong on the impact of social media in this process.
Topics covered include the importance of gaining trust and permission, positioning, storytelling and why traditional branding and advertising no longer works. This book could be a good corrective to some of the more legacy titles in this list.
As one reader says, it’s “an excellent primer if you're just starting out, and a way to deepen your knowledge if you're more advanced.”
11. Book of Branding – a Guide to Creating Brand Identity for Startups
- Author: Radim Malinic
- Brand Nu Ltd, 2019
- 256 pages
Bringing us up to date is this title written specifically for the online era. Lavishly illustrated like a glossy magazine, this book is divided into four sections: Planning, Process, Application, and Advice. Since so much of a startup’s success is its branding, this book works as a practical workbook for anyone launching a bold, new online brand.
Czech-born, British-based designer Malinic has a lot of colorful personal history and expertise to draw upon, as a former ice hockey player, death-metal bassist, and visual branding expert. He’s worked with Adidas, Dolby, and the WWF, a portfolio as varied as his interests.
Big on visual branding and the UX, there’s also a lot of practical and career advice, as well as case studies, a jargon-busting glossary and lots of amusing anecdotes. Readers describe the Book of Branding as “a breath of fresh air” as well as “honest and insightful.”
12. Marketing Made Simple: A Step-by-Step StoryBrand Guide for Any Business
- Authors: Donald Miller and Dr J. J. Peterson
- HarperCollins Leadership, 2020
- 208 pages
Donald Miller’s second entry on our list, this time co-authoring a book in which his StoryBrand principles are applied to the digital marketing funnel and online brand presence. In his methodical and practical manner, Miller elucidates his five-step process for finding new customers. Subjects include building customer relationships, using email to create traffic, and optimizing a website to maximize conversions can be found in this book.
It's perhaps more sales orientated than many of the titles here, but it’s also up to the minute in terms of SEO insights and information for solopreneurs and SaaS B2B brands. A great companion to StoryBrand, the book is easy to read and fits a lot of insight into a little over 200 pages.
Readers have described this new book as “a helpful refresher and a methodical guide on how to optimize digital marketing,” and it’s already proving popular on Amazon with over 1000 5-star ratings.
13. Find Your Red Thread: Make Your Big Ideas Irresistible
- Author: Tamsen Webster
- Page Two Press, 2021
- 222 pages
Webster describes herself as “Part message strategist, part storyteller, part English-to-English translator” and communication is her key brief. The red thread of her book’s title is the narrative through-line that connects an entrepreneur’s big idea to their customers’ hearts and minds.
As a TedX strategist, Webster is well-versed in communicating big ideas and her book starts powerfully. She explores the myth of Theseus following the thread he’s laid down to escape the minotaur’s labyrinth. It’s a great example of how to capture a reader with a dramatic image, and emblematic of Webster’s thesis.
As one of the best-written and most up-to-date titles here, Find Your Red Thread is also entertaining. Webster provides many pithy examples and offers clear insights. One reader even bought copies for all his clients and held a book club to discuss it! Other devotees describe it as “beautifully argued” and “a game-changer.”
14. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits
- Author: Debbie Millman
- Allworth, 2013
- 336 pages
Host of the Design Matters podcast, Debbie Millman here surveys the full landscape of contemporary brand thinking, talking with such luminaries as Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, and Virginia Postel. Each chapter is a dialogue with a different thinker, and takes the form of a freeform conversation, rather than a textbook or process-driven work.
It’s a fun book to dip in and out of, and you’ll find yourself agreeing with some interviewees and vehemently disagreeing with others. One reviewer, assigning 5-stars on Amazon, describes its collage-like effect succinctly: “It offers principles, perspectives, opinions, theories, and interesting case studies.”
It's also one of the best-value books on this list and is a perfect companion to some of the more theoretical or textbook-orientated titles here.
What makes a good brand book?
Our selection of branding titles reveals that there are perhaps as many approaches to writing about branding, as there are approaches to branding itself. However, we did note some consistent features of the best branding guides. They tend to be:
- Well-designed, readable, with minimal jargon.
- Full of great examples and case histories.
- Classic in their lessons, but up to date when it counts.
- Anecdotal, in the sense of providing honest, personal insight.
- Popular with both newcomers and seasoned branding pros.
Considering the above, if we had to choose just four titles to add to your shopping cart, we’d recommend:
- Building a StoryBrand: Clarify your Message so Customers will Listen for its practicality.
- Branding in Five and a Half Steps for its shameless beauty.
- Hello, My Name is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names that Stick for readability and insight.
- Find your Red Thread: Make Your Big Ideas Irresistible for its storytelling nous.
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